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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 13, 2018.
About this Poem 

“The left hand in other languages can be gauche or sinister. In English it might seem left out or left behind—and poetically it certainly is, though linguistically the hand's left comes not from the past tense of leave but from an Old English word meaning weak. The right hand is...well, right. One hand is dominant. And they both, like the moon, have darker and lighter sides. Surely our wordless hands have a lot on their minds.”

—James Richardson

Essay on the One Hand and on the Other

Consider the palms. They are faces,
eyes closed, their five spread fingers
soft exclamations, sadness or surprise.
They have smile lines, sorrow lines, like faces.
Like faces, they are hard to read.

Somehow the palms, though they have held my life
piece by piece, seem young and pale.
So much has touched them, nothing has remained.
They are innocent, maybe, though they guess
they have a darker side that they cannot grasp.

The backs of my hands, indeed, are so different
that sometimes I think they are not mine,
shadowy from the sun, all bones and strain,
but time on my hands, blood on my hands—
for such things I have never blamed my hands.

One hand writes. Sometimes it writes a reminder
on the other hand, which knows it will never write,
though it has learned, in secret, how to type.
That is sad, perhaps, but the dominant hand is sadder,
with its fear that it will never, not really, be written on.

They are like an old couple at home. All day,
each knows exactly where the other is.
They must speak, though how is a mystery,
so rarely do they touch, so briefly come together,
now and then to wash, maybe in prayer.

I consider my hands, palms up. Empty, I say,
though it is exactly then that they are weighing
not a particular stone or loaf I have chosen
but everything, everything, the whole tall world,
finding it light, finding it light as air.

Copyright © 2018 by James Richardson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by James Richardson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

James Richardson

James Richardson

James Richardson is the author of During (Copper Canyon Press, 2016).

by this poet

poem

So much on the verge
of flame.
In a hot
wind anything
is tinder: paper, sage

feverish with bees,
your auburn
hair, my hand
that glows with a thought.
Sunset

or sleepless dawn,
nothing is sure
but what’s already burned—
water that’s ash, steel

2
poem

The week after you died, Mom,
you were in my checkout line,
little old lady who met my stare
with the fear, the yearning
of a mortal chosen by a god,
feeling herself change
painfully cell by cell
into a shadow, a laurel, you, a constellation.